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Growing “PAST”: Vahan Stephanyan Finds His Strategist Mind in Belgium

Photographer and 2023 East-West Resident defines the creative direction for his ongoing photo archive project “PAST” and absorbs the exuberant culture of Brussels

March 28, 2024  |  by Creative Armenia

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Vahan Stephanyan, 2023 East-West Resident

Enveloped in the busyness of Yerevan, photographer and creative leader Vahan Stephanyan found freedom from his routine at the Villa Empain in Brussels. Surrounded by a forest and picturesque architecture, the artist reflected on all things present and future, polishing the vision for his ongoing photo archive series “PAST.”

Read more about the Brussels revelations in our exclusive interview with Vahan Stephanyan, the East-West Resident, photographer, and founder of Rambalkoshe.

You completed your East-West Residency at the Villa Empain in Brussels. Tell us about the highlights of your experience.

The most valuable highlight was having time, which we lack so much, living in Armenia. The time to finally collect thoughts, close important gestalt, and look into the future, which we also struggle to do while living in Armenia.

And, of course, the glass roof of the kitchen at the Villa Empain and the forest next to it was impeccable.

"Seeing how people honor their history, art, and those who created it, and how they preserve these treasures over the centuries was more enlightening than textbooks and university courses."

During your stay, was there a specific experience, idea, or moment that left a lasting impression on you? How has that particular impression affected your creative process or the project you were working on?

During my one-month stay at the Villa Empain, I worked on the “PAST” project. I wanted to find the tone of voice and the key message that I, my friends, project supporters, and community members could use to clearly articulate what the project is about, how it stands out, and why it is important.

The moment when I was able to put down the words and turn them into a sentence presenting the project in the right order made a vivid impression on me. The idea proved effective and gave me the result I sought.

As you mentioned, while at the Villa Empain, you continued working on “PAST,” aiming to digitize a unique collection of vintage photos of Armenians and Armenian photographers worldwide. What progress have you made on the project during the residency? 

Finally, I was able to create a project action plan and divide it into stages.

According to the plan, during the first stage, people would discover the Instagram page organically and help drive its growth through word of mouth. This strategy definitely worked. When I left for Brussels, the project's Instagram page had approximately 2,000 followers. Now, it has more than 11,000 and continues to grow every day without advertising.

Moments from Vahan Stepanyan's East-West Residency 

As an artist and creative leader, your career includes many notable achievements, such as co-founding the PAN Photo Agency and establishing Rambalkoshe. How did the one-month residency in Brussels influence your approach to creative pursuits, whether in art or leadership?

My visits to all the museums and archives not only in Brussels but also in other cities across Belgium were invaluable experiences. Seeing how people honor their history, art, and those who created it, and how they preserve these treasures over the centuries was more enlightening than textbooks and university courses.

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